If TV reports are to be believed, the Congress High Command has asked for a report on the latest controversy surrounding Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The controversy surrounds the CM's son Dr. Yathindra Siddaramaiah, whose company Matrix Imaging Solutions Ltd. was awarded a juicy tender to set up a pathology lab inside the premises of the government-owned super-specialty Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI). The chief minister’s critics have risen up in anger, claiming that the deal was not above board and the whole process violated the code of conduct for ministers.
To his credit, the chief minister, claims that his son’s company won the tender fairly and transparently by submitting the lowest bid. He claimed he did not even know that his son’s company was bidding for the tender. The hospital, which awarded the tender, says it was unaware that Matrix was owned by the chief minister’s son. Not many buy this.
The Congress party high command’s decision to seek a report, if true, marks a significant departure from the past, when it always appeared to merely turn a blind eye to the Karnataka chief minister’s exploits. Apart from being a major embarrassment, the timing of this incident makes it ready ammunition for the BJP, which is rallying its forces in the state with the re-induction of former chief minister BS Yediurappa as the Karanataka BJP president.
This is not the first time that Siddaramaiah has been mired in controversy. Only recently, he was put in the dock for wearing a really expensive Hublot Big Bang timepiece. Some reports claimed the watch was worth Rs. 60 lakh, but a realistic estimate would be around Rs. 25 lakh. Mr. Siddaramaiah said the watch was a 'gift'. Cornered in the legislature, he dramatically deposited the watch with the assembly speaker. That may have brought an end to the watch saga, but it has not been forgotten.
One of his biggest blunders was his insistence in celebrating the birthday of Tipu Sultan, who many beilieve was a tyrant who killed or forcibly converted thousands of Hindus and destroyed temples. Flying in the face of historical evidence, Siddaramaiah not only made it a state celebration, but insisted that it be celebrated in every district headquarters. This led to widespread violence and the deaths of two people in Coorg, the district that was directly impacted by Tipu’s cruelty.
His most recent action was the controversial shutting down of the Karnataka Loka Ayukta and replacing it with a toothless Anti-Corruption Bureau, which will probably keep political leaders out of its purview, since it is under political control. Widespread opposition to this, had no effect on the chief minister who just went ahead, ignoring public disgust and anger.
Apart from this, there is a perception that the chief minster is ignoring the problems that Bangalore faces on a daily basis. The roads are in a terrible condition, traffic is unmanageable, supply of power and water is erratic. The city corporation, whichever party is in control, is perceived to be inefficient and corrupt. Bangloreans believe their governments are sell-outs, the latest being no exception. Even today, citizens in Electronic City are protesting against a builder who has employed goons to threaten them. When the residents complained, the police ignored them. When the builder filed a counter-complaint, an FIR was promptly registered.
Where is the governance, is the question that people are asking. Recently, when some Tanzanian students were subjected to a racist attack on the streets of Bangalore, it was found that the attackers included party workers from the Congress, BJP, and the JDS. An embarrassed government hushed up the incident, even convincing visiting Tanzanian diplomats that it was merely a case of road-rage.
However, when compared to the scams, especially of the mining variety, perpetrated by previous governments, the controversies surrounding chief minister Siddaramaiah, till now, at least, are really small potatoes. His predecessor, who now leads the BJP, actually spent a few days as a state guest at Bengaluru’s central jail. The problem with Karnataka is that whichever party comes to power, the heads of government thrust on the people of the state have excelled only in mediocrity. The current chief minister is proving to be no exception.